Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hardly Strictly BG

I had a great time playing at last weekend’s free bluegrass (and beyond) megafest in Golden Gate Park, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. This year I was playing with the Bill Evans String Summit, which included Bill on banjo, Megan Lynch and Alex Hargreaves on fiddles, Steve Smith on mandolin, Bill Amatneek on bass, and yours truly on guitar. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the sound at this festival, which has three huge stages and a couple of medium-size stages, including the Porch Stage, where we held forth. Though an all-acoustic band like ours might be leery of the rock ‘n’ roll proportions of this fest, the sound in my experience has been fantastic, both for audience and performer. I’ve never heard a festival stagehand say to me (as I did Sunday) “You probably want more guitar in your monitor than that, don’t you?” and then proceed to get it for me.

After our set, we braved the (estimated 100,000 strong) crowd to try to catch a little of Elvis Costello’s set. Though I didn’t get close enough to actually see Elvis, I did hear him sing a sweet, mournful duet with Emmylou Harris on “Love Hurts” and rage garage-band-style through “What’s So Funny (‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding).” After catching some of Ricky Skaggs’ trad bluegrass set, highlighted by the pyrotechnics of guitarist Cody Kilby and fiddler Andy Leftwich, and watching the Bad Livers busk outside the mainstage backstage area, we retreated from the crowds and settled in at the Porch Stage. This is one stage where you can actually see the performers and even grab a comfy spot on the lawn, and here we were treated to a rousing set by Justin Townes Earle (who alternated his own swingy originals with covers of songs by Blind Blake, Arthur Smith, and the Replacements) and a sweet acoustic set by folk diva Maura O’Connell. And we even discovered a great new Vietnamese restaurant on our (long) walk back to the car.

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